Post-script: Professional Editorial Standards in action

by Michelle Waitzman

Anyone who has considered (or completed) any of the Editors Canada certifications has probably reviewed Professional Editorial Standards (PES). But how were these standards developed, and what do they have to do with the day-to-day tasks of editors and proofreaders?

Editors Toronto’s November program looked at PES through the eyes of four editors, each working at a different career stage and/or in a different editing niche. The speakers made it clear that the standards involve much more than taking tests; they are a practical and evolving guide to professional editing, which editors can use in a variety of ways.

The program started with an overview and history of PES from experienced freelance editor and instructor Elizabeth d’Anjou. Editors Canada first began discussing the standards in the early 1980s, and Elizabeth’s mother was a member of the committee that first created the standards, so Elizabeth practically grew up with them!

One of Editors Canada’s early goals was to set up a certification program so that professional editors could be easily identified (and their work properly valued) by potential clients. But before the organization could create a test for editors, it first had to define what it was testing. They considered questions such as the following: What skills are important? What tasks should editors know how to do? What kind of industry knowledge should they be expected to have? PES was created to answer these types of questions—a task that took many years and involved a number of consultations with members. The standards were not only important for informing a certification program, they were also a key tool for Editors Canada to use to raise awareness about editing as a profession and to explain what editors do.

The standards have undergone a few updates since their original publication in the early 1990s (most recently in 2016), both to refine them and to reflect changes in the industry.

PES forms the basis for the skills tested on the certification exams in structural editing, stylistic editing, copy editing, and proofreading. PES is not just used for testing, however. The panel discussed three other areas where they are often put into action: teaching editing, hiring editors, and working as an editor.

Teaching editing

As a teacher in Ryerson’s publishing program, Elizabeth uses PES to help shape her courses. They give her an overview of the skills that graduates need in order to edit at a professional level. Using PES helps her to ensure that nothing gets left out and that students have a solid start to their careers. PES is often used by creators and teachers of editing-related courses and training materials.

Hiring editors

Editors don’t only work for publishers these days—they also work for businesses, governments, independent authors, and non-profit organizations, among others. Often, the person tasked with hiring an editor knows little or nothing about editing. These people can consult PES, which is available for free on the Editors Canada website, to help them understand what separates a professional editor from an unskilled amateur, what questions to ask a potential hire, and what tasks they should expect an editor to do.

Freelance editors can use PES to help explain editing to clients and potential clients. The standards clarify the different levels of editing, which can demonstrate why several rounds of editing are needed. They may also help to prevent “scope creep,” where a client asks for a proofread, for example, but then expects a stylistic edit. At the other end of the “scope” scale, PES can show a client that an editor’s job may include tasks like querying bias and ethical issues, and not just fixing spelling and grammar.

Working as an editor

There are many ways that PES can help editors to do their jobs better, and each editor in the panel had her own way of incorporating the standards into her work. Along with Elizabeth d’Anjou, the panel featured Laura Edlund, who has worked for more than 30 years as both a freelance and in-house editor; Amy Brown, who has been a freelance academic editor since 2010; and Jennifer Dinsmore, who moved from an entry-level in-house role to freelance work, and considers herself a “beginner” editor.

For early-career editors like Jennifer and Amy, PES is a starting point for professional development. The standards help new to mid-career editors identify areas where they feel confident (and therefore should offer those services to clients) and areas where they have more learning to do before they meet a professional standard. PES can also guide editors with regard to which projects they have the appropriate skills for, so they don’t take on more than they can handle.

Because the standards outline what is involved in each type of editing, they provide a way to evaluate the complexity and scale of a project. This can make it easier to accurately estimate the time a project will take and how much to quote for it.

The standards can also help an overwhelmed editor take a step back from a complicated project and approach it more systematically. Breaking down the work into the various standards that need to be achieved can help the editor take a step-by-step approach and make the project less overwhelming.

Every editor will have their own ways to put PES into action. Whatever your specialty or level of experience, it’s worth reviewing the standards from time to time to see how they can improve your work and make your job easier.


Download PES:

See a short video about PES:

Read blog posts about PES:

Buy Meeting Professional Editorial Standards guides:

Michelle Waitzman is a freelance non-fiction writer, editor, and proofreader in Toronto. Before she started editing, Michelle survived careers in TV production and corporate communications. Between these, she ran away to live in New Zealand for seven years.

This article was copy edited by Ellen Fleischer.

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